All foods sold in Australia must comply with the Food Standards Code, which defines maximum residue limits (MRL) for pesticides permitted in specific foods. The MRL is determined from a number of factors, including:
- How much of the food is eaten in the average diet.
- How toxic the pesticide may be.
- How easily the food absorbs the pesticide.
In theory, foods cannot be sold if they contain pesticides that haven’t been specifically approved for that food or if the level of pesticide exceeds the MRL.
Despite the generous safety margin, CHOICE has concerns about the regulation of pesticides. Australia is lagging far behind the precautionary principle other countries use to safeguard public health. Here, use of a pesticide is permitted unless there is conclusive scientific evidence that its approved use is hazardous to human health and it persists as an environmental pollutant. The highly toxic pesticide endosulfan, for example, continues to be used on a wide range of citrus fruit, vegetables and cereals in Australia, despite having been banned in more than 60 countries, including New Zealand, the European Union and several Asian and West African nations. And while our regulators maintain it’s safe, the chemical company Bayer is phasing out endosulfan as an insecticidal ingredient by the end of 2010.
CHOICE is working to improve the regulation of chemicals in Australia. Go to Bad Chemistry Campaign for more information about our consumer advocacy project.